History. Chapter 1. Arrival to Europe and the initial reception

Tomatoes History

The introduction of the tomato in Europe is not clear. There is speculation that the first stop and the posterior acclimatization could be in the Canary Islands, but there is no certainty. Some studies say that Galicia was the entrance, sent by Hernan Cortes as a present for the Crown and others, as the researcher Carlos Azcoitia, defends that Seville was the first stop. He based his thesis, mainly, in the harbour activity, from where was sent to Italy. Spain and Italy were the first countries cultivating the tomato out of South America. The diverse conquers expanded the plant through the whole world. Spaniards and Portuguese took the tomato to Middle East, Africa and Philippines. From here it went to Asia. From Europe the tomato plant also travelled to the United States and Canada.

When the Spaniards brought it, the tomato was a small fruit of a cherry size and considered an ornamental plant. At the beginning it was not eaten because it was thought that was poison and even aphrodisiac, giving time to legends about the effects. The scientists from that time (XVI and XVII) did not agree about the properties either, what settled the reticence of consuming it and only was planted for decoration.

It is probable that the first tomatoes arriving to Spain ere yellow. Maybe that was the reason why the Italian botanist Piero Andrea Mattioli catalogued the tomato as pomo d’oro (golden apple), edible product, and included it in the family of the mandrake. This mistake kept the tomato in the classification of toxic fruit during the XVI Century. However, some scientists of this period speculated their medicine virtues to treat diseases such as scabies. The botanic expert from La Toscana Andrea Cesalpino wrote in 1583 that if, one wanted to eat it, it was recommended to boil or roast it. These suspicions could come from the material the cutlery and the plates were made at that time.  They were made with tin with a high percentage in lead for high society. These materials in contact with acid food as the tomato produced a reaction that could cause poisoning by lead. Low class used wood cutlery, so they did not have that problem.

The French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, professor of medicine in Paris and director of the King Botanic Garden, was the first to consider the cultivated tomatoes ad different genre, and denominated it Lycopersicon (from the greek peach wolf”) in 1694.

The observation of the sailors, who saw how the natives ate it with no problem, was definitive for an obvious deduction: there is no toxicity in the plants. Finally, in 1731 it was recognised that the tomato was not toxic and entered in the gastronomic world. In 1753 the naturalist Kart Linnaeus gave it the scientific name of Solanum Lycopersicum. In 1768 another botanist, Phillip Miller followed Tournefort criteria and described the genre Lycopersicon. He added the L. esculentum (eatable in Latin, the specie type), the L. peruvianum and L. pimpinelifolium.

In the British Encyclopaedia of that time finally appears that the tomato was used daily for soups, and adding’s. It is in this time when the tomato is introduced as a usual ingredient in any diet.  In the Spanish cusisine it was used as a daily ingredient in the XVII century.  Although you could not find the in the recipe books, we know thanks to the painting evidences (Murillo in The Angels’ kitchen in 1646). When Naples was under Spanish domination during the XVII century, the tomato was used for a sauce in the local cuisine. It was the cause of its fast expansion from that moment. In 1745, the tomato will appear in a Spanish recipe book including thirteen recipes with this ingredient. The Italian recipe books mention the tomato as ingredient in 1766.